Scots Anti-Independence Support Gains Amid Pound Doubts

Scottish nationalists seeking independence from the U.K. lost ground in the latest poll of voting intentions for the Sept. 18 referendum, as campaigners to keep the 307-year-old U.K. intact extended their lead.

Support for staying a part of the U.K. rose to 45 percent from 41 percent while backing for independence held at 32 percent, according to the monthly survey published by TNS today. Among the 71 percent of respondents who said they were certain to vote, the No camp was unchanged at 46 percent, while backing for Yes rose 1 percentage point to 38 percent. Sixteen percent said they were undecided, down 2 points, TNS said.

With little more than five weeks before the ballot, the poll suggests that Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has yet to convince voters of the benefits of independence. In the first televised debate of the campaign on Aug. 5, Alistair Darling, the former U.K. chancellor of the exchequer who heads the No campaign, was judged the winner after questioning Salmond on the pound. A second debate is planned for Aug. 25.

There’s “literally nothing anyone can do to stop” an independent Scotland from using sterling, Salmond said in an op-ed in the Sunday Herald newspaper on Aug. 10, saying the country is “keeping it, come what may.” He also reiterated a threat to walk away from the country’s 130 billion-pound ($218 billion) share of U.K. debt if a currency union is denied, as the U.K. government and the opposition have said they will do.

BOE Plans

The Bank of England has contingency plans to address any “financial stability issues” that may arise in the event of Scottish independence, Governor Mark Carney said.

“Uncertainty about currency arrangements” has the potential to raise issues over financial stability, Carney said at a press conference in London today at the publication of the quarterly Inflation Report. “In terms of our responsibilities for financial stability, we do have a wide range of tools and plans.” The bank will implement “whatever we’re asked to” on the currency question, he said.

Polls have consistently shown the nationalists trailing behind the campaign to keep Scotland in the union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Enough people are undecided to cause an upset next month, although that pool is shrinking, Tom Costley, head of TNS Scotland, said in an e-mailed statement.

Undecided Voters

“The hopes of the Yes campaign rest on winning over most of the dwindling number of undecided voters” in the run-up to Sept. 18, said Costley.

The question of which currency a new Scottish state would use is one of the central points of disagreement. Prime Minister David Cameron has ruled out sharing the pound, while Salmond has threatened to shun Scotland’s liabilities unless he changes his mind, a move that would increase U.K. debt as a proportion of gross domestic product. The other two main parties in Westminster, Cameron’s Liberal Democrat coalition partners and the opposition Labour Party, also oppose independence or sharing sterling with an independent Scotland.

The pound declined 0.6 percent to $1.6715 as of 2:46 p.m. London time. It has gained 1 percent this year.

TNS said it polled 1,003 people at least age 16, the minimum to vote in the referendum, between July 23 and Aug. 7. Another poll will be published in early September, it said.

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